posted by Matt W on August 24th, 2012

When I was young and had nothing better to do, I would head over to the B&I with friends or family. The best way to describe the B&I was a cross between a Wal-Mart, a flea market, and a circus, although not nearly as organized as any of those places. If you wanted work boots, pez candy refills (the dispensers were in a different department), a prom dress, and toilet paper all while petting a goat and looking at a caged gorilla, you were in luck because they all happened to be in the same department at the B&I. If you needed a stapler, that was in the department with the carousel. There were 50 other equally disorganized rooms at the B&I. It was an awesome place to waste time. But every time you went to the B&I you had to go see Ivan.

Ivan was the B&I’s resident gorilla. Ivan was in a small metal cage with thick glass walls that would be recognized as cruel today. At the time nobody knew any better. The first time you went and saw Ivan you would think he was really small, as the 5 inch thick glass made him look way smaller. There he would be, sitting in the back corner, an oversized monkey. As kids, we would tap on the glass until he got annoyed, got up and walked over to the glass and smashed it with his forearm, shaking the entire room. It was his way of saying, “Crazy kids, stop tapping the glass, I’d like to get back to playing with myself.” It was then that you realized how enormous he was. When he was against the glass, it no longer distorted his size, revealing enormous hands and forearms. His head was humongous. We would all laugh at how we got him to hit the glass and how lucky we were that the glass was 5 inches thick; thick enough to stop a bullet, which was how powerful Ivan’s blows to the glass were (that’s what the sign said). Someone usually had a story to tell about that week’s Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and how they had seen Marlin Perkins tell about a gorilla in the wild and it was really cool. Ivan was a part of every Tacoman’s life.

As we got older, we started to realize it was kind of sad that Ivan was at the B&I.

Zoo’s started to change and make enclosures that were more like the animals natural habit. I’m sure Ivan thought his natural habitat contained steel, glass, pesky kids and bowls filled with Purina Gorilla chow. People started to protest Ivan being in his little cage and after a while his owners graciously donated him to the local zoo. He was sent on permanent loan to the Atlanta Zoo. And while he did well at the zoo, I once read that his exposure to other gorillas was never quite as seamless as hoped.

Wednesday, I ran across a notice that while under anesthesia, for a routine physical exam, Ivan passed away. The zoo keeper said it was the equivalent of dying of old age while in your sleep. I think most people hope their friends pass this painless way. While reading about his death in the newspaper, it saddened me to think that in the many times I have been in Atlanta, I never thought to go see Ivan in his Atlanta Gorilla enclosure (I had forgotten what city he had been sent to). I would have really liked to have seen that. He was a big part of my childhood, really everyone from Tacoma’s childhood.

And while he died 2,700 miles away at the age of 50 in an Atlanta zoo, the entire city of Tacoma will always remember him.

Ivan the Gorilla, may you rest in peace.

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